Kapok | Up in smoke

Eric Sautedé

Back in October 2014, it was announced that in order to comply with the Environmental Protection Planning of Macao (2010-2020) and the Transport Policy of Macao (2010-2020), both of which had been designed at a time when “sunshine government” and “scientific policy-making” were the new-speak of a not-so-promising newly selected Chief Executive, a scheme to phase out highly-polluting vehicles would be put in place.

The decade-long Environmental Protection plan had rather limited ambitions, as the promise “to control the number of motor vehicles properly and continue to eliminate the high-pollutant emitting vehicles” were seen as “long-term” goals, only to be reached by 2016-2020. Thus, one could argue that the decision to eliminate from our roads highly-polluting vehicles was two years early, and moreover grounded on very solid data: according to a study released by the Environmental Protection Bureau at the time, “two-stroke motorcycles and older diesel vehicles aged 10 years and more” were the biggest culprits.

It was estimated that if two-stroke motorcycles made only 5% of the total number of vehicles on the road, they were responsible for 22% of all hydrocarbon emissions! And if diesel vehicles aged 10 years and more barely represented 1% of the total, yet their emission of fine particulates (PM2.5) accounted for 40% of the total! The calculation was that by phasing out at least 50% of these highly polluting vehicles all types of emissions would be reduced by 6 to 20%.

The scheme to phase out highly-polluting motorcycles was ultimately announced in June 2017, and owners willing to take their nefarious engines to the test for proper disposal were promised a MOP3,500 subsidy. It was announced this week that exactly 5,457 dirty-smoking two-wheelers had been scrapped and that this amounted to a whopping “slaughtering rate” of 52%, that would translate into a staggering reduction in emissions of between 2% to 11%. All seems to be going according to plan then — long-term included — except that two questions remain: where are the other 48% (that is more than 5,000 motorcycles) and what about the diesel-powered older trucks? Where is the scheme to phase these out and when is it going to bear fruits? Is 2020 still the goal? By my calculation, we are still missing 75% of the promise made in 2010…

If one now turns to the total number of vehicles on the road, there is no doubt that the 2015 tax hike on newly registered vehicles (going from 30%-50% to 40%-72% depending on the size and price of the car) decided by the government has had significant effects, despite the naysayers at the time, among which Zheng Anting and Angela Leong were the most vocal in the Assembly. Between 2000 and 2013, the number of private vehicles doubled, reaching more than 100,000. Up to 2015, it was still climbing by 5% on a yearly basis, reaching an all-time high of 112,794 light automobiles in January 2016: as of November 2017, the total number of light automobiles stood at 107,126, thus a reduction of 5%. An increase in tax coupled with measures to restrict parking spaces and punish illegal stationing have clearly been successful and could have been even more so if the whole network of public transportation had in parallel been entirely revamped and rationalized.

Yet, some figures do not add up: there were only 128 electric automobiles registered in Macao by November 2017, whereas there were 10,649 such vehicles in Hong Kong by the same month. In Macao, electric cars should be a must given the average length of travel per day and the overall network of roadways (only 324.1km), and yet they only make up 0.1% of private cars versus 1.8% in the other SAR. “To promote and encourage the development and application of renewable energies” was indeed also among the long-term goals of the Environmental Protection Planning of 2010…

Categories Opinion